We have a new family member. His name is Bernie, and he’s a Betta. You may know Bettas by their old and now geographically outdated name of Siamese fighting fish.

My daughter got me Bernie as a birthday present. She was following perfect six-year-old logic, telling my husband, “Mommy loves animals. We need to get her one for her birthday.” I do not usually promote giving animals as gifts, but in this case, my husband was thankfully able to guide her toward an option that fit both her and my criteria for being an appropriate present.

Bernie was attractive when he first arrived, but now he is downright glorious. He is thriving in his little tank on our kitchen counter. At the store, he received only basic care. With us, he is now getting the best of the best. We added live plants to his aquarium to improve water quality and opportunities for shelter. When we noticed his water temperature was consistently below what was ideal, we bought him a heater. He’s eating a top-notch food and benefits from regular water changes that involve the use of a water conditioner.

After a couple of weeks with us, Bernie has blossomed. His colors (red and blue) are iridescent. His fins are seemingly larger and more “billowy” for lack of a better word than they were before. He is much more active than he was when he first arrived, and his personality has blossomed. Whenever one of us stops by for a peak into his world, he moves close and puts on his best display. Sure, he’s either protecting his territory or begging for food, but it’s an improvement from his earlier lackluster (with hindsight) behavior.

Bernie has added a lot of joy to our lives. I wanted to talk about him to raise two important points.

First of all, the benefits of pet ownership are not limited to the animals that we usually talk about here. Yes, dogs, cats, ferrets, horses, iguanas, et al., do make wonderful companions, but they require a big investment of time, energy, and money. Fish, rodents, some small reptiles, and other relatively low-maintenance and low-cost pets have a lot to offer.

Secondly, these animals still require a dedicated owner. I didn’t know a lot about Bettas when Bernie first arrived. I had to research his ideal environmental conditions and how best to take care of him and then go out and buy a few things that were lacking from his initial set-up. If I hadn’t taken the time or been willing to foot the bill to learn about and fulfill his needs, he would not be thriving and I wouldn’t be enjoying him as much as I am.

So, if you think you’re ready for the responsibilities of pet ownership (or adding additional animals to your current “herd”) but are concerned about the financial and/or time burdens, think small. You could do worse than a Betta, that’s for sure.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: (Not Bernie) Dvortygirl / via Flickr